Despite inherent differences, the trajectory of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound project is actually quite similar to his band. Deerhunter moved from obscured psych-rock to swirling psychedelia to taut indie rock on Halcyon Digest, and Atlas Sound's third album Parallax presents the same unadorned crystal clarity, for better or worse. Where Cox's previous albums sounded like literal "bedroom" electronica, all boxed-in rhythms and heavy-lidded melodies, Parallax is the product of a studio.
In fact, Parallax sounds like a classic rock record, but a revisionist one: think Smashing Pumpkins' 1991 debut Gish for a similar mixture of traditionalism and modernized psychedelia. The palette here is mostly guitars, soft drums and the occasional synth or sound effect. This straightforwardness is established from the outset: opener "Shakes" nails his muttered vocals onto a big jangly guitar figure that sounds like The Byrds making post-punk. Parallax has a number of unashamedly accessible moments, like the gorgeous piano/acoustic guitar shuffle of "Mona Lisa" or the satisfying electric/acoustic strum of the hymn-like blues "My Angel Is Broken." There are unusual touches littered all over—the harmonica on "Praying Man" or the buoyant bossa nova swing of "Amplifiers," but there are also typically immersive bouts of soundcraft, like the warbly, watery "Doldrums" too. The latter are just shorn of the static that used to act as their protective skin.
Cox's lyrics are the same blend of impenetrable anxiety ("Found money and fame / But I found them really late," he ruminates in "Shakes") and cryptic references, but they're delivered in his strongest cadence yet. Suddenly able to adopt a number of personae from folky strummer to rockabilly crooner (complete with slapback echo), he gleefully toys with his own outward personality. It comes to a head on the stunning "Te Amo," a harpsichord lovesong with soaring vocals unlike anything we've ever heard from Cox—it's one of the most gorgeous songs he's ever written and one of the few moments on Parallax where Cox is giving us a piece of himself without any kind of pretense.
Even though we get Cox at his most nakedly audible on Parallax, however, it still feels like he's putting on a show, or imitating someone else. Just look at the cover. He's there. But he's dressed up in a guise, holding a vintage microphone. Over the course of his third solo album, that's essentially what we get. He's a damn good performer after all—his vocals are stronger, his melodies are better, and his instruments cleaner—but he's replaced the intense and fascinating introspection with something that feels less honest. It's an uncomfortable trade-off but not an entirely dissatisfying one: it just leaves Parallax with the lingering aftertaste of transition, a solid album pointing at a new direction but not quite sure how to get there yet.
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Tracklist: Atlas Sound - Parallax 01. The Shakes
03. Te Amo
05. Modern Aquatic Nightsongs
06. Mona Lisa
07. Praying Man
09. Angel Is Broken
10. Terra Incognita
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